Working Papers
Desai, Sonalde, Cecily Adams, and Amaresh Dubey. 2007. “Segmented Schooling: Inequalities in Primary Education. ” Presented at the Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy Workshop organised by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, October 26-27, 2007.


Indian society has long been stratified along the axes of caste, ethnicity and religion. A large number of studies report inequalities in various outcomes along the caste, ethnicity and religion. Not surprisingly, this inequality is reflected in educational attainment too. However, the precise mechanisms through which inequality in educational attainments manifests itself remains open to debate with a variety of hypotheses being advanced such as poverty, child labor, lack of access to schools, teacher discrimination and lack of parental interest in education. Unfortunately, there is little empirical research examining these hypotheses. Nor are the processes through which social disadvantages manifest themselves, clearly articulated. This paper utilizes a newly collected nationally representative survey data from over 41,550 households to examine social inequality in children‘s educational outcomes. The focus is on 8 to11 year old children‘s reading and mathematical skills. As expected, the paper documents substantial differences in reading and arithmetic skills between children from different caste, ethnic and religious backgrounds in India. However, these differences persist even after controlling for current school enrollment, grade completion and parental socio-economic status. This suggests that the differences in educational attainment between people of different social strata are not simply due to difference in enrollment rates. Even when children from disadvantaged groups attend school, they fail to learn as much as their peers. These findings have important policy implications. Much of the current discourse has focused on the importance of constructing schools or encouraging parents to send their children to school. Very little attention has been directed towards what happens in schools. Our results suggest that even holding school enrollment and grade attainment constant, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to attain lower levels of reading and arithmetic skills. Since low performance at primary levels is likely to result in lower academic performance at subsequent levels, improving school quality and reducing discrimination may be the next challenge facing Indian educational policy.